Learning our fall lines

You know when you get a Slurpee from 7-Eleven and it’s a little too much for the regular straw? That’s my snow report for today. Dirt Slurpee.

There were people snowboarding in t-shirts with their jackets tied around their waists just so they still had their lift tickets that were attached.

We went down “the long slope” to the bigger chair lift once. That was all I needed as the conditions were pretty awful. It felt like a slog for me, though Ian never fell on that section today. We shared a chair ride with one of the snow patrol dudes. He asked how we liked the snow and I politely said, “It’s ok. We’re having fun.”

Ian said, “Well ... yesterday was a lot better but today it looks more like salt than snow and I don’t think that’s as good.” I pointed out that this was his second day on skis ever and we come from tidal Virginia so we’re not snow connoisseurs.

Patrol dude said, “I’ll be honest with ya, this isn’t very good snow. So if you can ski in this, you can ski in anything.”

We went down “the short slope” next, my taking the lead so Ian could follow me. After a bit, I realized he’d fallen. I stopped. I tried to side step up the hill. I took one ski off and tried to side step that way. Nope. My skis sank into at least 6” of Slurpee. I was nearly that horse stuck in the mud from Neverending Story.

So I just stood and waited. Ian tried to push himself up but ... Slurpee. So he took off both his skis, got to his feet, repositioned his skis, clipped back in and rejoined me. We continued to the small chair lift.

He looked a little sullen so I asked about it. “I can’t believe you didn’t realize I had fallen!”

“Dude! I’m a novice skier too. I’m doing my own ski. I can’t look back for you every two feet. When I realized you were gone, I stopped. I tried to get to you but it was really hard. And you weren’t in distress. So I just stood witness. You didn’t cry for help. You figured it all out and made great decisions. I’m proud of you. Do you want me to follow you next time?”

He nodded.

So we took turns that way. When I fell on the long slope he stopped and waited for me. He said, “Good job!” when I was able to stand back up in Slurpee. And I said, “Yes! Go you!” when he made a great recovery.

That’s how grief is for us. We have to take turns. We have to wait for each other. And if we can make it through this dirt Slurpee, we can make it through anything.


Deliver us

As we sat down to dinner last night, Ian said, "I miss Daddy. I feel like I didn't do enough for him and his cancer. I feel like I should have done more to help him and I didn't do anything to help him!" He started crying.

I reminded him that he was seven when his father died. He was two years old when his father was diagnosed. We didn't expect him to change ostomy bags. I told him that Daddy was not very good at asking for help from anyone, certainly not a little boy. What Daddy wanted more than anything was to pretend that cancer didn't exist. Every moment he spent with Ian, watching TV, playing, or cuddling, allowed him to pretend cancer wasn't there and he had his old life back. So Ian did everything he was supposed to do.

You know how you talk about some product and then it's showing up on your Facebook ads? Just the other day, I was talking to a friend about how some people say I didn't do enough for Rich. It broke my heart to hear my sweet boy cry that he didn't do enough for his father.

Things looked great for Team Stryker until 2016. That last year was a doozie. Not all of us made it out alive and there were many wounded. I can't make that clear enough that it was touch-and-go there for several of us. Calling me human garbage also doesn't bring Rich back, but you do you. One of the good things to come from the crucible of caregiving and widowhood is I don't care what most people think anymore.

Yesterday morning I noticed Ian had texted Rich's number a few times. The messages failed at first but in the middle of December one went through. "I'm sad that you died daddy." That had to be one of the worst wrong numbers a person could get. I'm grateful they don't have read receipts turned on. It just said "delivered." I think they changed numbers since then since my message today went as a text versus iMessage. Maybe they didn’t want a dead man’s phone.

I tend to talk to Rich in the car versus texting him. Days before the check engine light came up on the Suburban and I bought a brand new car, I was talking to him about our vehicle options. I don’t even mind that he doesn’t respond much.

You should be able to memorialize a phone number, so texts don't fail but don't go anywhere. Just let the messages keep saying "delivered."


Practicing our forward transitions

A month or so ago, Ian declared he wanted to play hockey this year. Ok, dude, sure.

Hockey is not cheap. There's the cost of the season itself, the jerseys and socks, and all the other equipment. Then there are time costs. Practice is every Tuesday and Wednesday and games are every weekend. I'm tired just typing that out. But hockey is important to our family.

Ian and Rich - December 2012. This was Rich’s first time on the ice after the first surgery six weeks prior.

Ian and Rich - December 2012. This was Rich’s first time on the ice after the first surgery six weeks prior.

Ian played beginner hockey a long time ago. November of 2014, to be precise. That's when things starting going downhill for us all as a family. That first season was fine, but Ian was five years old. All of his equipment was put away after that season. We all were trying to survive, and not all of us did.

January 2015 after hockey practice

January 2015 after hockey practice

Ian and I went back to Iceland for a fresh season last Monday. It was a whole other world. As an 8-year-old, Ian is a "squirt", meaning he plays in an 8-10 league. He's taller than all of them by quite a bit, but they all skate much better. Much. Better.

The other kids are faster, more agile, can skate backward and stop on a dime with ease. Ian is not that good. He could have been that good, but we were busy the last few years.

The first practice day. Ian specifically requested an orange jersey “like Daddy”.

The first practice day. Ian specifically requested an orange jersey “like Daddy”.

I sat on the tall bar stools at the glass and watched my giant child repeatedly fall with each drill he attempted. The first practice was an hour, and I cried the entire hour.

I didn't cry because my kid is not an advanced ice skater. I cried for everything that could have been. That should have been. I cried for the smell of chemical ice and body odor that hangs in the air at Iceland. If some couples have a song or a destination, Rich and I had that smell. It felt so awful to be there without Rich.

I was convinced that Ian was going to walk off the ice any minute. That he would come out in tears and tell me it was too hard and he didn't want to do it. Crying in the lobby was certainly too hard for me, and I didn't want to do it.

I talked to a few of the other parents. They were polite and didn't mention the shine in my eyes. They noted how tall Ian is. I told them that I'm 6' tall and his dad was 6'5". I'm not sure they caught the change in tense.

There were two little goalies out on the ice. They were in Rich's crease, making all the same moves he used to make. My heart wanted to burst with happiness for them learning to glove save and the grief of never seeing Rich in his pads again.

Ian walked off the ice after his first hour delighted. He was soaked in sweat, just like Rich would be. He was grinning just like Rich would. He had on an orange jersey even. As we drove home, I told Ian how incredibly proud I am of him. I reminded him that his dad and Uncle Lee didn't skate until they were teenagers.

After the second practice, the coach pulled me aside and said Ian couldn't play this season until he can skate better. He was worried Ian would be crushed so wanted to tell me first. I told him Ian just wants ice time. We're in this for the long haul. 

Vickie is the manager of Iceland. I adore her. She recognized Ian and me from the memorial skate we had for Rich (Vickie gave us the rink for free that afternoon). She said she would transition it all for us and we’d be fine. Ian would play on a team in no time.

Ian asked me to read him the brochure for Learn to Skate and Hockey Initiation before bed several times last week. He made a list of the items he needs to pack for skate lessons. He is utterly undaunted.

Ian’s list for hockey

Ian’s list for hockey

Vickie refunded our season fees and gave me credits towards the Learn to Skate program. I decided to join Ian on the ice. I can skate decently, but I'm not great.

Our first lesson was last night. Ian had a blast. I can already see a marked improvement after just one hour. And I learned how to do turns. I'm in an adult class with two ladies in figure skates. We make quite the team. I'm noticeably better after just an hour too. There were no tears last night either. We both had so much fun.

Ian’s first official skating lesson

Ian’s first official skating lesson

Vickie said maybe I'll want to play goal like Rich did. Maybe.

I should note that while Rich can't be there with us, we're not alone. I have a new boyfriend named Brian. He’s in my phone as “Code Monkey” because Senior Developer Design Engineer Monkey is too awkward to say. He supported me over the phone while I cried in the rink. He came to Ian's second hockey practice to support us. He made Ian's lunch while I was upstairs getting Ian settled for bed. He met us for dinner after our first skating lesson. He can't skate and it doesn't matter. He’s very much on our team.

Code Monkey

Code Monkey